Nottingham Forest announced the signing of Jesse Lingard this evening. The 29-year-old arrives as a free agent after leaving Manchester United at the end of last season – but is he worth the £180k-a-week Forest are paying out for him?
Another excellent signing by Nottingham Forest, who have strengthened and rebuilt their side following their promotion to the Premier League. Arguably the best of the lot, Jesse Lingard is a statement signing, having rejected advances from the likes of West Ham to join Steve Cooper’s new-look Forest outfit.
Lingard’s weekly wage at his new club is yet to be announced. Many organisations are reporting that Lingard will be collecting between 180k-200k per week, but news has recently emerged that the midfielder could be taking home a far smaller pay packet. The final fee doesn’t matter, what we want to know is, what can we expect from him and what will he add to this Nottingham Forest side.
Nottingham Forest 2021/22
Last season, Nottingham Forest featured heavily in a 3-5-2/5-2-1-2 formation, with a number 10 playing behind the two forwards. Philip Zinckernagel was normally that man and had the job with getting on the ball in the midfield area, turning and playing the ball into one of the two forwards. It was a role that was highly valued in this Forest side, and whenever Zinckernagel was absent, the team normally looked offensively stagnant – struggling for any creativity.
Following Dane’s return to Watford – and his subsequent transfer to Olympiacos – Nottingham Forest didn’t have anyone to replace him as that number 10. There were heavy links to Morgan Gibbs-White, but it seems the Reds were priced out of a move when Crystal Palace and Everton began chasing his signature. It was a real position of need for Steve Cooper, and after fortifying his defensive options, it became the position of most concern.
If Nottingham Forest continue playing with a similar formation and system, this is where we can expect Jesse Lingard to feature.
Jesse Lingard’s style of play
Over the course of his career, Lingard has been used here, there and everywhere. At Manchester United, he was played as an attacking midfielder, on the right and on the left, at the international level he’s featured in similar positions as well as in a deeper midfield pairing, and at West Ham – where he found most success – he played as a second striker along former Red, Michail Antonio.
Wherever he played there was a lot of similarities in his overall performance. When receiving possession, Lingard would always do so on the half-turn. He would turn to face the opposition’s goal and either drive forward or look to play through an attacking teammate.
His fluidity in midfield often gave him the freedom to drift out to the left or the right, even when playing in a central role, which will suit Cooper’s system perfectly. At Nottingham Forest, regardless of where he picks the ball up he will have someone ahead of him, or behind him looking to advance, meaning when in possession he can easily turn with the ball and play through an advancing wing-back or a forward, depending where he is on the pitch – thus allowing Forest to create goal-scoring opportunities on the break.
Out of possession, Lingard is an incredibly hard worker, he likes to chase downplay and win the ball back – whether that be deep in his opponent’s half or on the edge of his 18-yard-box. This relentless desire to win back possession could be crucial to a Nottingham Forest side we expect to have a lot of time off the ball in most of their games this season – especially when coming up against superior possession heavy sides.
On the ball, Lingard is excellent at driving forwards. His nimble frame, combined with his pace and acceleration giving him the tools to beat defenders without conceding possession. His quick turn of direction makes him even more of a handful, allowing him to avoid pressure and break tackles with relative ease.
There is a clear difference between Lingard who featured at Manchester United, and Lingard who was on-loan at West Ham United. Both are very good players, but everyone involved with Nottingham Forest will hope they’re receiving the latter.
Lingard moved to the London Stadium on a six-month loan from Man Utd in January 2021, it gave the midfielder an opportunity for the consistent game time that he wasn’t getting in Manchester and also gave West Ham some attacking reinforcements as they mounted a European push. No one quite knew how the move would turn out, but it’s safe to assume everyone was shocked when the then 28-year-old picked up nine goals and four assists in just 16 Premier League appearances – the highest return of his career.
During his time at Manchester United, Lingard was often deployed in one of the attacking midfield roles in a 4-2-3-1. At West Ham United he was deployed in a similar formation, but instead playing just behind a lone striker – this is where his skill set really shone.
As mentioned before, Lingard is great in transition – he likes to pick the ball up on the half-turn and drive downfield, something he did often under David Moyes. Moyes’ West Ham side set up in a counter-attacking system in most of their games, conceding possession to their opponents to allow themselves more opportunity to break away at pace. His pace was crucial in this system, driving with the ball to create chances, or using clever movement to pull away opposing defenders. Lingard’s ability to drive forward on the counter was showcased in West Ham’s 3-2 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers – the midfielder picked up the ball on the turn in his own half, and drove forward, beat two defenders and finished coolly into the bottom corner.
The former England international is known far more as a creative outlet, rather than a goal scorer – but at West Ham, he established himself as both. He was comfortable at taking aim from inside and outside the opponents’ box, and racked up a healthy goal contribution with nine goals in 16 League appearances.
How will Jesse Lingard fit into Cooper’s side?
As mentioned before, Lingard is likely to feature as a fluid number 10 behind Taiwo Awoniyi and Brennan Johnson – a role previously occupied by Zinckernagel. It’s a position that Forest desperately needed to fill and they’ve done so with a player who’s proven himself in the Premier League.
There is a number of noticeable similarities between Zinckernagel’s and Lingard’s style of play. Both can pick the ball up from deep and progress forward, both are excellent at playing the ball in behind and both have the desire & ability to beat their man. Looking back at Zinckernagel’s time at Nottingham Forest he was often having to pick up the ball far deeper than Lingard is used to. The Englishman is used to picking up the ball around the half-way line, or in the opponents half – following his move to the East Midlands, there will be a lot more pressure on Lingard to pick up possession from deeper positions and move Forest onto the front foot.
With the quality of the Premier League, it’s likely that Forest will come up against a lot of teams who want to control the game and dominate possession – which could play into Lingard’s hands. His ability to pick up the ball on the half-turn and drive downfield means that when Forest plays against these possession heavy sides, they will have a creative outlet waiting to break in the form of their new signing.
His contribution in front of goal could make him one of Forest’s more important players going into the start of the new season. Brennan Johnson is coming off the back of a fantastic season in the Championship, but has never played at such a high level. Similarly, Awoniyi had a fantastic season over in the Bundesliga, but may take some time to adjust to a new system and a new league – meaning there could be a lot of pressure on Lingard to be a key creator and goal threat, especially in the early weeks of the campaign.
One aspect which will be key to his new side is his versatility and fluidity in attack, Yes, he’s likely to be used as a number 10, but his experience playing out wide, or as a second striker means Cooper can experiment with his new signing and try different systems to see which works best. It’s unlikely, but there could even be a scenario where Cooper plays with three forwards, Awoniyi down the middle and Lingard and Johnson on either side.
The Author’s Verdict
I’m going to be honest, when this rumour first broke my instant reaction was ‘No, not a chance’. Had a lot of reservations and concerns over his weekly wage and the difference in the form at Manchester United compared to West Ham. I always thought Lingard was a good player, but wanting £180k a week, and on a multi-year deal, if he didn’t live up to expectations he could be a costly acquisition that Forest could struggle to move on. However, since his wage might be lower, and its only a one-year deal I think this is one of the best bits of business all season.
If he lives up to expectations, he helps guide Forest to a midtable finish, extends his contract or he moves to a European side – if he doesn’t, he leaves on free and Forest are £10m out of pocket and that’s if he’s on £180k a week.
Looking away from the financials, there is a lot to like about this bit of business. Jesse Lingard fills a massive hole in Steve Cooper’s side with some proven Premier League quality. His ability in transition lends itself well to a counter-attacking system and could be the perfect fit at Nottingham Forest. Not only that but his eye for a pass and forward-thinking play could get the best out of the attacking outlets around him.
Assuming Forest could be spending a lot of time out-of-possession, the work rate Lingard showed at West Ham could be crucial in helping Forest stop opposing attacks and win the ball back. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on his West Ham loan, as that was the best time of his career – if Forest are able to get similar performances out of the 29-year-old this will be an incredible bit of business.
With two weeks to go until the start of the season, I still think it would be useful for Cooper to invest in another attacking midfielder. Being one of the best players in the squad, Lingard will no doubt be the starter, but with a gruelling Premier League season ahead, depth is certainly needed.
It’s exciting to see what Lingard will bring to this Nottingham Forest side. Given his impressive career, he comes in as one of the best players in the Forest side, and he’s likely to become a key player in the Garibaldi. Similar to the addition of Henderson, I think this move is a win-win for both parties. Lingard has a point to prove in the Premier League and would like to wriggle his way back into Gareth Southgate’s World Cup plans, this move gives him the opportunity to do so whilst also adding a premium player to the City Ground side – potentially changing the ambitions of the Forest faithful.
This move is a statement of intent from Nottingham Forest, who showed their financial might and their desire to challenge in the top flight following the signing of the former Manchester United man. There are reasons to be sceptical due to the reluctancy of West Ham and Everton to add him to their ranks, but there can be no denying the quality Lingard adds to his new team. This might just be the signing of the season.